The latest installment of author and radio personality Sandra Tsing Loh’s autobiographical book series, “The Madwoman and the Roomba,” covers its author’s 55th year, a time in women’s lives she has always found to be underrepresented in popular culture.
“I’m interested in seeing what the female journey – whether biological or however you identify – is going to look as we go forward,” Tsing Loh said. “I don’t know how that is going to look over the next 25 years.”
She has started getting a handle on the last 25, however. Hosting “The Loh Life,” an autobiographical public radio program for 19 years, she explained, was like keeping a weekly journal. And a number of the chapters and themes throughout her series have developed directly out of ideas originally written down for the show.
Her first book, “Depth Takes a Holiday,” was written in 1996 from a 26-32-year-old perspective; the books that came later covered similar amounts of time all the way up to her most recent, which closely follows her 55th year.
“People that read my books back then have kept reading with me along the way at those different ages,” Tsing Loh said. “This is a continuation of that character and that life.”
In your 20s, she explained, you try to articulate yourself as a person and in your career. In your 30s, you start declaring your chosen path; you dump the money-borrowing motorcyclist for the partner who shares your sense of humor, respects your boundaries and makes their own sourdough bread.
“At 36, it hit me that my then-husband was 9 years older than me and that if I didn’t start trying to get pregnant then, I was basically deciding that I never would,” she said. Then in her 40s, after her children were born, she entered a new radicalized, public education-centric phase “where suddenly you’re making cakes and organizing children’s marches and getting a bunch of violins, just this huge outburst of energy.” Then in “The Madwoman in the Volvo,” Tsing Loh writes about her late 40s to early 50s and her experience going through menopause.
“This chapter – 55-56 – is very much a midlife chapter of the series,” she said.
She started writing “The Madwoman and the Roomba” in 2014, but, she explained, the project was temporarily derailed after the 2016 election.
“I was almost in a depression for a year or two,” she said. “I just couldn’t get my arms around it.”
But as she slowly recentered, her attention went back to covering the everyday, domestic happenings and the kind of “slice-of-life” essays toward which she had always gravitated.
“A year in the life of families and how they get through,” she said. “Nothing of major dramatic proportions, but a lot of smaller things happen.”
In quarantine, she has tried to stick to the same mindset, taking things day by day, gardening and wearing her “goddess pants,” nearly 200 pairs of which she has now sent in care packages to her earliest readers.
But this year, staying “zen” hasn’t been easy.
“My book actually came out on Blackout Tuesday,” she said. “So it was kind of like, ‘Oh, here is a comedic memoir about domestic life that’s coming out on Blackout Tuesday.’ People were just about to pivot to a lighter summer and then – I’ve found people are just so hungry to just take a break from the news for a moment and have a laugh and sit in the tub and just chill.”
Her goal in releasing “The Madwoman and the Roomba” is to offer her readers a break. “The laughter is important,” she said.
In early fiction-writing classes, Tsing Loh experimented with writing more serious content but ultimately chose comedy.
“That’s what people responded to,” she said. “As a writer, you eventually find out what your readers really respond to, and then that becomes your thing.”
Her readership, she explained, responds most positively to the confessional, irreverent, self-deprecating style she uses in her autobiographical series.
“It’s a disarming mode,” she said. “The more confessional you are, the more people come and tell you things about themselves that they’ve never told anyone else.”
To aspiring writers, Tsing Loh offered the following advice:
“Find a group or a tribe of like-minded people where you all know what you are inspired by, what you’re going for and protect that,” she said.
She emphasized the importance of familiarizing oneself with writing styles from different decades:
“It can feel right now that everything is the New York Times or some very political blog site. Take a summer off and read older kinds of articles; find out what inspires you personally, especially if it’s in book format. The rhythm, the language and organization of the page. There’s just a different impact.”
“I also think it’s crucial for people who are serious about writing to have a mode where they’re creating outside of social media,” she said, explaining the danger of conforming your personal writing style to whatever is popular at the moment. “Otherwise, you’ll always be writing things like how to lose weight while petting your cat.”
Tsing Loh will participate in a Northwest Passages Book Club virtual forum hosted by Julia Sweeney on June 23 at 7:30 p.m.
Jess Walter releases new short story The New York Times bestselling author Jess Walter recently released a new short story, “Town & Country,” through Scribd, an online publishing platform and reading subscription service. The work follows Jay Curtis as he comes to terms with his father’s dementia and the eroding inhibitions that often accompany the disease. “Town & Country” is available online through Scribd at scribd.com.
Vestal finalist for award
The Spokesman-Review columnist and award-winning fiction writer Shawn Vestal is one of six finalists for the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award.
Narrowed from 983 to six original English works of up to 6,000 words, the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award shortlist includes Alexia Tolas’s “Granma’s Porch,” Niamh Campbell’s “Love Many,” Daniel O’Malley’s “Simon,” Louise Kennedy’s “Sparing the Heather,” Namwali Serpell “Take It” and , last but not least, longtime Spokesman-Review columnist Shawn Vestal’s “Teamwork.”
Open to writers around the world who have been published in the U.K. or Ireland, submissions closed in December. The Short Story Award winner will receive 30,000 pounds.
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